It’s time for the next update of the increasingly untimely BrokenTV Awards 2009. You’ll remember the original premise for these, won’t you? All originally to be done on video, presented supposedly ‘live’ from 1970s USSR, only to be stymied by our lackadaisical attitude and YouTube’s policy of destroying anything using clips of copyrighted material. This explains the stage directions in square brackets, though where we could we’ve included YouTube links to, erm, clips of copyrighted material. Hmm.
So, pausing only to rewrite a load of bumf for the second time because Windows Live Writer crashed and lost loads of stuff once we centre-justified an embedded video link (gagh), we continue with a special…
Patronising Pat on the Head Award
LabRats (BBC Two)
This seems to be up for several Worst Comedy Show gongs elsewhere, but we must admit that we rather liked it. It's a traditional studio-based comedy (good), with a live audience (good), ridiculous plotlines (good) in a situation where anything can happen - a science lab at a university (good). Sadly, it all seems to have been carried out in something of a rush. The script only seems to have gone through a single draft - plenty of the gags in there didn't work at all, and many promising lines would have benefited from being rewritten.
Only a couple of the characters had anything like a rounded character, the perpetually sighing voice of sanity Dr Beenyman played by Chris Addison and Geoffrey McGivern's wonderfully eccentric professor. The others didn't fare quite so well, played by Jo Enright (playing a dim midlander), Dan Tetsell (one-dimensional lab assistant) and Selina Cadell (a Dutch woman. That's as much personality as she was afforded).
Despite the one-dimensional characters, convoluted plots and half-arsed scripting, the show was tantalisingly close to being enjoyable. It certainly stood out from pretty much any other post-watershed sitcom on air in 2008. We would state how a second series could see many of the cracks papered over, and maybe the Lab Rats could show us all what it was so very nearly capable of, but this looks unlikely. By the fourth episode, it had dipped out of the BARB ratings Top 30 for BBC Two – a very poor performance for a comedy zone show with a Buzzcocks lead-in, and was never to return. So, that’s about it for LabRats.
Meanwhile, the following four shows thundered on:
Worst Comedy Show
Little Britain USA
[Illustrative clip of someone vomiting or similar.]
Peter Kay's Britain's Got the Pop Factor
[Illustrative clip of Kay dressed as that woman and being rubbish.]
The Kevin Bishop Show
[Illustrative clip of anything from The Kevin Bishop Show.]
Christ’s soupy beard!
[Illustrative clip of Jason Manford looking pleased with himself for crowbarring a joke from his act into a topical news story, punctuating his statement with the words ‘’right’ and ‘yeah’ so the audience keep with him.]
The Winner is… The Kevin Bishop Show.
Standing out above the others because we actually thought it might be good. Little Britain USA was always going to be woeful, Peter Kay ‘doing’ X Factor wasn’t going to keep anyone with any sense entertained for the whole sixteen hours (though there were enough viewers left at the end to buy the cash-in single, so Kay will be happy), and if Jon Holmes couldn’t save The Eleven O’Clock Show, Manford clearly wouldn’t be up to the task. The Kevin Bishop Show sounded promising. A bunch of TV spoofs, presented in the manner of someone hopping their way through a digibox. That could work!
And indeed, in the Comedy Lab pilot, broadcast the previous year, it worked quite well, but given a full series the paucity of ideas became more obvious.
It’s a shame, because there were a few hits, such as an impression of Harry Hill when he was still a doctor, delivering diagnoses in a decidedly TV Burp-y manner, or Newcastle United being passed through a barcode scanner. For the most part, it was uninspired one-shot gags being drawn out way too far...
It certainly didn’t help that Kevin Bishop isn’t even that good at doing impressions. This isn’t too much of a problem when it comes to Star Stories, when it’s all part of the gag, and anyway each episode is about a particular personality, so the viewers know who he’s meant to be. When the sketches are being thrown out a lot more quickly, we’re left with unsubtle exposition like having a caption at the bottom of the screen saying “With Tim Westwood”, followed by Kevin Bishop saying “I is Tim Westwood”. Oh, and a joke about Professor Stephen Hawking being on Pimp My Ride. Gosh, how challenging!
Best British Animated Comedy
There’s no actual need for nominations here, is there? It’s quite plainly Wallace and Gromit: A Matter Of Loaf And Death. Being entirely serious, for all the cynicism about how “they don’t make TV shows like they used to”, this magical half-hour genuinely deserves to be up there with the finest ever Christmas Day moments of Morecambe, Wise, Barker, Corbett or Trotter. Even if the writing weren’t up to scratch, the animation alone would be more than enough to capture the imagination of a rapturous nation, but the talk easily matches up to the walk. The part where (and I would make some sort of vocal spoiler tag here, but if you haven’t already seen the programme in question, you frankly don’t deserve to live) Gromit elects that the best way to save the day is by throwing the bomb just over the Yorkshire border made for one of the best gags of 2008.
Most surprisingly non-rubbish comeback
Harry and Paul
“Ruddy Hell! It’s Harry and Paul” hit our screens in 2007, and was hugely disappointing. Having learned nothing from the abject failure of Harry Enfield’s Brand Spanking New Show (you know, Sky One’s attempt at spending money on comedy from 2000), it repeated the same formula of coming up with a few half-baked ideas (builders who are actually quite cultured, people in expensive shops having contempt for their customers, Polish coffee shop workers being foreign, American tourists resorting to their stereotype, Nelson Mandela being non-PC) and then repeating them over and over without adding anything at all between each outing. Without the benefit of having a several-year run-up to their new series, Harry and Paul (now shorn of both “Ruddy Hell!”, a live audience and Morwenna Banks) re-used all of the characters we’ve just mentioned, added some new ones that were equally uninspiring (elderly Radio 3 presenters who were actually really into hip-hop), and yet... somehow it was rather enjoyable.
It’s quite conceivable that the BrokenTV crew were swayed by the emotional tribute to the late Geoffrey Perkins replacing the credits to episode one, but there seemed to be more of an effort made with this series, as if the writing team realised they couldn’t just surf the national wave of goodwill that Paul Whitehouse elicits this time round. While it was still nowhere near the standards set by Harry Enfield’s Television Programme, pieces like Clarkson Island (commendably acknowledging their inspiration by having the camera do a Google Maps type zoom toward Whicker Island whilst playing out The Liberty Bell right at the start of the sketch) took an idea and really ran with it, squeezing the correct amount of enjoyment from each premise before moving on. And Steve Nallon got to appear as Margaret Thatcher, too.
Dead Set Award for Best British Drama
That is all.
Best International Drama
Despite the writer's strike, 2008 turned out to be very strong year for US drama. Having to cram everything into just (x) episodes forced the ensured the writers of Lost couldn't get away with scattering the big reveals as thinly over the a season as they have done in the past. 24 went one step further, by taking the year off to concentrate on making Day Seven a proper return to form. Well, fingers crossed, anyway. Our nominations tonight concentrate on shows centred around what seems to be a new angle for American drama - championing the anti-hero. The three programmes up for the Brokie tonight concentrate largely on the antics of a meth chemist, a family of con artists, and a murderer. I could go on about these being representative of a crisis of confidence amongst the American populace after eight years of Republican rule, but I'll probably get pelted with rancid fruit. Here are the nominations, even though you've already guessed what they are:
The Dad Off Of Malcolm in the Middle (or The Dentist Off Of Seinfeld, if you'd rather) is fed up with his crappy life. Considering this only meets the US TV criteria of "crappy life" (i.e. attractive, younger, loyal and supportive wife, large house, secure public sector job), you may be expecting something formulaic. But! After being diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, he decides to start making crystal meth, so as to provide for his family after his death. So far, so meh, but as the series progresses, you realise they’re not just going for a lazy shock factor. A very welcome programme that you’d have been a fool to miss because you’d expected it to be a rehash of the similar sounding Weeds.
Why is it US networks always make their programmes seem really unappealing in the trailers, eh? It is well worth watching, though. Trust us.
Eddie Izzard proves he's been to a lot of acting classes since being almost as unconvincing as Shaun Ryder in The Avengers. Thanks to the writers’ strike only half a season of The Riches was delivered this year. As a result, viewers were left with a cliff hanger of Eddie Izzard’s eldest son (played by Liverpool forward Dirk Kuyt) running back to the traveller’s camp the family had originally fled from, and joined up with a newly-paroled Irish nutjob who is clearly Up To Something. Infuriatingly, as the show was cancelled due to lacklustre ratings, that’s the end of the Rich/Malloy family, and we’re never going to find out what Something he was Up To. It’s like Crash Magazine being bought out by EMAP all over again.
One of those programmes where you want to recommend it to everyone you meet, but when you try to explain what it involves, you realise you’re doing it a complete disservice. “Yeah, so it’s about this blood splatter analyst for the Miami Police, only he’s actually a serial killer on the side. But! He only ever kills other serial killers, and it’s really... I’m not convincing you, am I?” You can’t help but make it sound like an especially forgettable movie shot entirely on video and shoved out at 3am on Zone Horror. It is really good, though. Really.
Dexter really is one of those shows, like Lost, where you should avoid every trailer for forthcoming episodes, as it’s all about not knowing what’ll happen next. This clip avoids that, but doesn’t really seem very exciting. What the hell, watch Dexter anyway.
And the winner is: Dexter.
See. Told you it was really good. Dexter has been a revelation this year, even surpassing the majesty of season two. Considering the feelings of those yet to watch it on British TV (and not, ahem, flying to the USA every weekend to watch it on Showtime), I’m not going to say what happens in it, but each episode makes for a roaringly entertaining hour. Even hugely successful modern dramas prove to be generally predictable – it’ll take Jack Bauer about 23 hours and 48 minutes to catch the bad guys, Gregory House and his team will make at least three incorrect diagnoses before arriving at the actual cure, Gene Hunt and whichever time-travelling partner will arrest the wrong person before finding out the other character introduced this episode did it after all. Dexter isn’t like that. Take everything you think is about to happen – well, the odds are, that isn’t going to happen, something five times as interesting is going to kick off instead. It’s such circuitous plotting that makes Dexter BrokenTV’s favourite drama of 2008. And now that SPOILER REMOVED has happened, 2009 is sure to be just as good, if not even better. Oh, and no, The Wire isn’t nominated.